What to do if you breakdown on the motorway – and in particular the M1 where the hard shoulder is often opened to general traffic to beat congestion – is something that many motorists don’t give a second thought to.
But recent accidents, including the tragic deaths of two young men and a taxi driver, between J12 and J13 has put the issue at the forefront of the minds of many motorists who use that busy stretch of motorway on a daily basis.
It is further complicated in this area by the fact that the hard shoulder of the M1 is often used as a general traffic lane during heavy flow times. The so called ‘dynamic hard shoulder running’ involves opening the hard shoulder to general traffic at busy periods to ease congestion.
The scheme was initially developed on the M42 in the Midlands and is now in operation on sections of the M42, M6, M4, M5 and the M1 – locally it is used during peak times between J13 for Bedford and J10 for Luton.
On these stretches a solid white line differentiates the hard shoulder from the normal carriageway.
Drivers are informed whether the lane is open for traffic by overhead signs on gantries, which will say ‘congestion use hard shoulder’.
When it is out of action a red X is displayed or wording shown saying it is for emergency use. It is illegal to use the lane during these times unless it is an emergency.
CCTV is used to monitor the traffic for any incidents such as collisions and break downs.
If a motorist has broken down in the hard shoulder, Highways Agency operators can close the lane to traffic by using the red X symbol.
The agency says that using the hard shoulder can be done without compromising safety.
A spokesman said: “A smart motorway uses a range of innovative technology combined with new operating procedures to actively control traffic flow. Techniques such as varying the speed limits and making the hard shoulder available to traffic are features of smart motorways all designed to make journey times more reliable, improve traffic flow and reduce congestion.”
Refuge areas are provided at regular intervals along all smart motorways at a maximum space of 2,500m. These include purpose-built refuge areas, hard shoulders on slip roads and motorway service areas.
So what should you do if you break down or have to stop in an emergency?
> If you cannot leave the motorway (to the hard shoulder on a slip road, a motorway service area or off the network completely), you should try to get to an emergency refuge area. From here, contact highways staff via the emergency roadside telephone for help and information.
If this is not possible try to move on to the verge if there is no safety barrier and it is safe to do so. Leave your vehicle via the nearside – left hand – door and wait on the verge a safe distance away from the road.
> If you stop in a live lane, dial 999. The Highways Agency can close lanes to protect the stranded vehicle until help arrives.
> If unable to move over to the nearside lane, remain in the vehicle with your seatbelt on and call 999.
> In all cases, switch on your hazard lights.